The book, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, has sparked A LOT of conversation. Not all the conversations are being generated by women. My husband, Leonardo Souza, and I read the book at the same time. Of course, we have reacted differently to some elements of the book. As the husband of an ambitious wife and father to two spirited girls, I invited him to share his thoughts on this blog. I had planned on a joint post, but as you can see, Leo has much to say. I will follow up next week with my view of the book. Enjoy!
I had started, scratched and re-started this post a dozen times, and I simply couldn’t find a way to convey just how important I think Sheryl’s book is, and why I believe everyone (women AND men) should read it. Until I stumbled upon @adriarichards story (http://butyoureagirl.com/14015/forking-and-dongle-jokes-dont-belong-at-tech-conferences/), which got me fired up.
You see, I was raised by a very strong woman (my mom), who worked hard all her life, both outside of the house and especially inside of it, making sure that my brother and I would grow up to be decent people.
I remember as if it were today, when my mom overheard my best friend loudly sharing with a group of (male) friends all the things that had happened between him and the girl he went out the night before (not much, to tell you the truth, since we were all 13-14 years old). She stopped him short, pulled him aside and gave him a lecture, explaining that it was not a proper way to behave. As she put it, that was the attitude of a boy, not the attitude of a man, and she was disappointed with him. Yep, that’s my mom.
Having such a high bar raised for myself in regards to how to treat women, when I joined the workforce, all of those lessons had been ingrained in my mind. So one of the things I did when, at 20-years-old, I started managing a development team, was to make clear for them that having wallpapers/screensavers of scantily clad women was not accepted behavior. The team was new and most of the guys were even younger than me, which made this restriction much easier to implement. Following that we hired a girl that was an extremely talented developer, a woman that was an experienced DBA, another girl that was by far the best applicant we could have asked for a position in IT Operations, and lastly an intern that started at the company as a designer, but who had a desire and the drive to become a developer, so we promptly gave her a chance. Soon we had almost as many women working in our technology department as we had men. That made us even better, providing fresh perspectives in many projects and also ensured we had a welcoming work environment for employees of all genders.
I’ve had female role models all my professional (and personal) life, from co-workers to mentors, and I’ve worked with some truly fantastic female engineers. So when my oldest daughter started to show an inclination to logic (such as being really good at solving Tower of Hanoi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Hanoi), my wife and I decided to encourage her to explore this further, first by enrolling her in a summer camp where she learned how to work with Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu/) and then, more recently, by buying a Raspberry Pi (http://www.raspberrypi.org/about) and spending a whole weekend explaining to her how a computer actually works. My wife also bought for her this terrific book (http://www.amazon.com/Super-Scratch-Programming-Adventure-Program/dp/1593274092/) that teaches how to create games using Scratch, and which it’s written like a comic-book. It was extremely rewarding for me to share these moments with my daughter, explaining to her about x/y coordinates, conditional logic and loops.
My oldest is still very young (9yo) and has diverse interests (horseback riding, theater, singing, Scratch, etc.), but the main message I want to pass on to her is that no matter what path she chooses to follow, she can be successful if she dedicate herself to it.
Getting to 50/50
The second message I hope to teach both of my girls is this wonderful advice from Sheryl’s book, which I so hope will be embraced by more women:
“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is ‘date all of them’: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment phobic boys, the crazy boys… but do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy, do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner, someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious… someone who values fairness and expects, or even better wants, to do his share in the home. These men exist, and trust me, over time, nothing is sexier.”
When our youngest was just 10-months-old, my wife and I were both assigned to travel for work on the exact same week, and since we do not have any family members living close to us, we had a big logistical problem to solve. The solution for the oldest was easier, since she had already being flying by herself for over a year, so we arranged to fly her over to her biological father for that week. Now what about our baby girl? Since my business trip was to São Paulo, where my parents live, we decided it would be best if she came with me. You would not believe the amount of stares I got both during the 16-hour trip on the way there, as well as on the equally long trip coming back. Even today, when I tell people that our youngest’s first international trip was at 10-months-old and traveling only with me, people (especially women) seem to have a hard time processing that information.
This happens quite often with me and my daughters. A few weeks back I was with my youngest at the doctor’s office during a return appointment (she had been very sick the week before), the nurse started to explain all the meds our daughter would have to take, how we should give it to her, etc…. then she stopped mid-sentence and said “I will write all of this down so you can give to your wife”. Part of me immediately thought “did I just hear that?”, but the exam proceeded and I didn’t make much of it. Until we got towards the end of the appointment and the nurse *again* said the same thing, making a reference that she would be sure to write everything down so my wife could understand it. At that point I had to say something, and something along these lines came out of my mouth: “Actually, I am the one that will give my daughter the meds and I’m also the one who typically brings both of our daughters for doctor appointments. My wife just brought her last week because I was at a meeting with a client.”
The questions nagging me in both of these cases are the same: Why the surprise? Because men *typically* do not perform these types of tasks? Because many men would be lost if they had to stay alone with their children for even a few hours?
All of this *may* be true, but if we want to get to the proverbial 50/50, not only do men need to step up to the plate, but also women must be able to believe that men can do so.
The Myth of Doing It All
Another section of the book that I absolutely loved is the one where Sheryl talks about “the myth of doing it all”, mostly because I have been a believer of this myth for longer than I should. As an example, here is a sample of my regular daily activities (besides all the work-related activities):
- waking up both girls early in the morning
- helping both of them to get ready
- setting up the table with breakfast for the three of us
- packing snacks for the oldest and lunch for the youngest
- double-checking if both of their bags have all they need for the day
- driving them to school/daycare
- picking them up at the end of the day
- preparing dinner (while my wife gives them a bath)
- getting both of them ready for bed
- cleaning up after dinner
This list doesn’t even include the daily tasks related to our two cats and one dog… or dishwashing, or washing/folding clothes, or taking trash out, etc.!
I am the eternal perfectionist who spends many hours every day taking care of my girls, but I still feel, more often than I wished, that I’m not doing enough, that I should be spending more time with my daughters, that I need to play more with them, that I need to plan more fun activities with them… It’s an endless litany of things I should be doing better. Yes, it easily gets to be overwhelming…
Suffice to say, I completely devoured Sheryl’s section in the book about this myth, and I hope I will be able to push away some of those not-doing-enough thoughts and replace them with doing-well-enough ones.
Sheryl’s book is terrific, not only for all the research it uncovers (the Heidi/Howard case being one of the most intriguing), but especially for her heartfelt stories, inspirational message and practical tips. As I said at the beginning of this post, I believe both men and women must read this book, reflect about these issues and then work together to eradicate them.
And I will make sure both of my girls read it as soon as they grow up a little bit more